February 29, 2008

Editorial:

City’s review of ‘07 fire response and recommendations myopic

The City of San Diego, this week, released their 89 page “After Action Report – October 2007 Wildfires City of San Diego Response.” This report reviewed the response of the city to the fires, highlighting the positive aspects, and providing recommendations for the future.

The initial reaction to this report was that most of the recommendations are a repeat of the recommendations from the 2003 Cedar wildfires that devastated the county.

But our concern here is not what was in this report regarding the ‘07 wildfires, but what was left out or only noted with no clear plan of action. We are talking about the total lack of attention paid to the needs of the Spanish speaking community and of the immigrant community!

The city in their effort to point out some of the positives that they learned from the ‘03 Cedar fires included the mass evacuation phone system, Reverse 9-1-1, and the fire information system - the 2-1-1 system. While these two systems were a step-up from the lessons learned in ‘03, they were monolingual English which totally bypassed the Spanish speaking community, which in San Diego County is, about 1 in 5 people.

The reverse 9-1-1 and 2-1-1 information systems are in their infancy in development and it is not yet a perfect system; it has a few flaws which we can accept. What we can’t accept is the city’s report that totally ignores these flaws and makes no mention of addressing this issue. That is unacceptable.

The second glaring aspect of this report was the scant detail of the need for bilingual assistance at the evacuation centers. In this case they did make mention of the obvious need for bilingual assistance, the report states that more bilingual help was needed, that was it, nothing more about the subject, and they did not address the need to provide registration materials in Spanish for the evacuees which saw many people turned away from Qualcomm because they could not fill out the English only forms.

The issue of the San Diego Police checking for US citizenship and turning over undocumented families to the Border Patrol was swept under the rug. This was an issue that received national attention through the news media yet was not addressed in this report. Checking immigrant status in a state of emergency should not be a priority of the San Diego Police. More importantly is not the responsibility of the San Diego Police to be checking for immigrant status.

Not one word was written in regards to the farm workers and migrant workers who had to face extra special hardships during this time. Many farm workers were seen at their jobs, in the fields while fires blazed in the nearby hills and local residents were being evacuated. Many migrant workers live in the hills near their work which meant they had little notification that their lives were in danger, that they could be sweep under by a fast moving wall of flame. In fact more time and effort was devoted to the care of animals than the needs of these human beings. This is just unconscionable.

The City of San Diego’s report on their response and recommendations totally ignores the Spanish speaking, immigrant, and migrant community, it takes the position of “out of sight out of mind”.

In a state of emergency it is incumbent upon the local government to provide food, care, and a place to rest to all. When we are donating food, money, and volunteering, we are not doing so, so that a certain segment of our society will do without or be ignored. We do it so that all who need the help, food, and health care receive this help in a time of emergency.

The fact that this city report ignores the Spanish speaking, immigrant, and migrant community, is a black eye for the city leadership, or in this case a lack of leadership.

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